Haggerty: What a difference a year makes

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Haggerty: What a difference a year makes

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON It's not difficult to believe the Bruins are vastly different this time around, is it?

Last year they couldnt close things out against the Flyers, stumbling badly after losing David Krejci to a dislocated right wrist in Game 3 as they built a 3-0 series that, as everybody knows, they couldn't hold.

Of course, the fact that Steve Begin, Trent Whitfield and Miroslav Satan three players who suited up for a grand total of two NHL games this season were among those who played in last year's Game 7, while Krejci, Marco Sturm, Dennis Seidenberg and Tim Thomas, among others, did not, had a little to do with it, as well.

Which is one of the reasons that things seem very different now that these Bruins -- relatively healthy and clicking on all cylinders -- are again up, 3-0, on the same Flyers after a dominating 5-1 win in which they dominated all phases of the game.

One could simply joke that no one has ever blown a 3-0 series lead in consecutive seasons as further proof there'll be no repeat this year. But it's not 2009-10 anymore. A team full of proud players who heard jokes about collapses and being chokers all summer isnt leaving anything to chance.

We're glad that we're in the position that we are," said Zdeno Chara. "But, still, there is one more win we have to accomplish to move on, and that is where our focus is right now.

Last year we had a good chance to play in the Conference final, and who knows what could have happened from there? said Krejci. So this year we just really want to beat these guys and get to the Conference final and go from there.

Both teams are vastly different this year. The Flyers are dearly missing Chris Pronger, and their goaltending woes are so acute that they've actually changed goalies in each of the first three games of the series.

The Bruins, on the other hand, are healthy and have momentum at their backs after having won seven of their last eight games.

First of all, about half the guys werent here last year," said Krejci. "Its a deeper team, we have more depth in our lineup.

Chara (two goals, a plus-4 and a team-high five shots on net on Wedneday night) and Patrice Bergeron (17-of-19 faceoff wins, an assist and a plus) have been performing like champs, but nearly all the new faces are making a difference:

Rookie Brad Marchand wasnt good enough to crack the playoff roster last year when Whitfield played in his place, but he's become a key cog in this season's postseason run. He set up Charas first goal Wednesday night, and bounced like a pinball all over the ice with a game-high seven hits.

First-year Bruin Nathan Horton capped off one of his finest playoff performances with a Gordie Howe hat trick that included an assist on Krejcis first period goal, a second-period goal on his own, and a second-period scrap with veteran defenseman Sean ODonnell when things got testy in front of the Flyers net.

Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle have added to the depth and the overall talent level in Boston.

Seidenberg, who was injured and didn't participate in last year's playoffs, contributed another solid 28 minutes Wednesday night skating alongside Chara in a top pairing.

That doesnt even mention a healthy Krejci, who has eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in the three games against the Flyers. The Bruins are 11-0-1 in their last 12 games against Philadelphia when Krejci's in the lineup, and he has 18 points and a plus-10 over those games. Krejci finished with three points and a plus-2 in the victory.

Nor does it account for the biggest difference-maker in the series. Thomas was outstanding again Wednesday with 37 saves on a night when his defense managed to keep the actual scoring chances to a minimum. He ripped off a stretch of 68 straight saves between Game 2 and 3, and is starting to taste what could be an incredibly fulfilling postseason.

I'm focused on this year," said Thomas. "I'm focused on what we as a team want to accomplish this year and what I as a player want to try to accomplish this year."

Thomas has a .967 save percentage in the last two games against the high-octane Flyers, and all the Philly skaters have gone away frustrated in the knowledge that its going to be nearly impossible to beat the Vezina Trophy favorite with the roll hes currently on.

The Bruins will continue to hear questions about last season now that theyre up 3-0, but it couldn't be any clearer that it's a new year.

Going into the series I was hoping for the Flyers to drop behind in the series, said Tim Thomas. It is what it is. Its a different year. Its totally different."

That it is. The Bruins have come through the heartache, skittishness and bitterness of last season, and are a better, stronger, more lethal team for it.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.